Consumer purchase journeys have changed rapidly due to COVID-19. How brands respond with empathy, while combining speed, ease of use, interoperability, and the highest safety and security protocols will determine their survival in the long run. The challenge from a customer experience (CX) standpoint is not just to stand out to customers, but to pivot, innovate, and transform.
Recently I had the opportunity to be part of a discussion on reimagining CX with Kahly Berg, CEO of Rational Interaction, a CX agency and part of Wipro Digital, and Eric Chaniot, CDO & SVP of French mobility company, Michelin. Here are some highlights from our conversation about how brands are now interacting and engaging with customers, and what consumers expect from brands in this safety-obsessed age.
The New ‘C’
COVID-19 has brought many new interpretations to the ‘C’ in CX. I argue that C in the CX increasingly stands for “care, convenience, and community.” As people struggle to navigate this crisis, stay locked-up in their homes, work remotely, and physically distance themselves from others, they appreciate the human touch in their digital experiences that reveals the “care.” A great starting point for brands is to listen to consumers’ needs and communicate proactively the steps they are taking to serve them better. It could be something as simple as adding a feature in a product or service that helps people stay at home, or interact with the brand without compromising their safety. We saw airlines offering flexible ticketing or zero cancellation fees, and restaurants ensuring all safety protocols like removing seats to ensure distancing and using paper, disposable menus.
Convenience was always important to consumers, but now it has a whole new meaning. As COVID-19 peaks in many countries, lockdowns keep people away from stores and logistical issues affect E-commerce and the availability of essentials. Brands need to engage with consumers in their homes and make it easier for them to consume products and services, to create a long-term and sustainable relationship with them.
Brands with the most memorable marketing campaign might not have an advantage compared with those that exhibit emotional intelligence, and a sense of community. Consumers want to be seen and understood, and they are extremely sensitive to tone and motive. Brands need to reach out to them to help rather than sell. It needs to be about the larger community and not about bottom lines.
Integration Will be the New Law
The integration of the physical and digital has been talked about for years. It is now showtime. The idea of integration hinges on relationships, not just the relationship between a brand and its consumers, but also relationships among brands. As Kahly explained, brands need to come together and think holistically about integrating experiences for consumers through industry-led initiatives. New CX integrations need to happen at an industry level, not just at a brand level, providing a seamless experience to the consumer at all touchpoints. There is therefore an opportunity to create industry-wide ecosystems and partnerships where many like-minded brands come together to provide a safe yet engaging end-to-end experience.
Secure Virtual Experiences
Every human is unique. They can be stressed or happy in the same set of circumstances; one might be enjoying an experience, while another might detest it. Just think of the varying reactions to mask-wearing requirements in stores. Brands need to truly understand customers’ sentiments and engage with them with empathy and humility. I expect to see a new customer persona arise because of the COVID-19 crisis – one that is extremely risk averse. Brands will have to design customer experiences with safety at the center to avoid disenfranchising this subset, which could potentially be a large base. Combining safety with customer experience isn’t easy, but it can be done. This is where specialized companies like Designit, a Wipro company, can step in. Brands need resilient design thinking that accounts for all what-ifs and worst-case scenarios while remembering to deliver a positive experience.
Touchpoints with No-Touch
Consumers are avoiding public spaces and travel because they are wary of shared resources that might carry the virus. As such, they are putting a very high value on physical safety and are increasingly concerned about physical contact when interacting with brands in this safety-first world. This acts as a major catalyst for touchless interfaces and transactions. Brands are incorporating low-touch or zero-touch experiences that enable consumers to transact with no touch, be it the wave of a card, hand gestures or buy in-store and pay online. Brands are also experimenting with voice-enabling consumer touchpoints. The ‘no-touch’ needs of the current environment will acclimatize customers to the ease of touchless experiences, so we expect more of these going forward, even after the crisis has been tackled.
COVID-19 is teaching us a great deal about the true nature of interaction and collaboration. Even though it demands upfront investments in CX, brands will ultimately reap great benefits by putting people first and having a human-led approach to brand and service interactions. Consumers are capable of adapting to change in a positive way. By developing touchless, customer-focused experiences, we will emerge into a new and better world where products and services are even more convenient and relevant to our wants and needs.